ALBANY, NY — The Democratic Governor of New York pulled no punches when asked about a letter he received Wednesday from the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, seeking data on COVID-19 illnesses and deaths in New York’s publicly-run nursing homes.
“Mr. Barr cannot spell the word justice,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said, referring to United States Attorney General William Barr.
“He’s lost credibility in this position,” Cuomo said. “He doesn’t even feign to be impartial or a real Attorney General.”
The letter to Cuomo and three other Democratic governors — in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan — was actually written by assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, who runs the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department.
It asked for data relating to publicly-run nursing homes, and in New York State, there are only five of them. Hundreds of for-profit, long-term care facilities have already come under our scrutiny for how they reported COVID-19 illnesses and deaths.
The letter was sent a week after Cuomo and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a fellow Democrat, criticized the Trump Administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic at the virtual Democratic National Convention.
“Coincidences, I don’t believe in them, because I’m from Queens, Mary Murphy,” he said to PIX11’s reporter.
While Cuomo gained national recognition for the steady leadership he exhibited in the initial months of the pandemic, when New York State was the epicenter of the outbreak, his decisions on nursing homes have been criticized.
A March 25 mandate from the state’s Department of Health said recovering COVID-19 patients had to be readmitted to nursing homes from hospitals.
At the time, Cuomo and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker were worried about running out of hospital beds, because thousands were getting severe illness from the respiratory virus.
The state partially reversed the directive on May 10.
A state task force later said in a July report that most nursing home residents got sick from asymptomatic staff and visitors who started bringing the virus into facilities as early as February.
More than 32,000 New Yorkers died from COVID-19, according to federal data and Johns Hopkins, though the NY DOH has recorded just over 25,300 coronavirus deaths. The state said 20 percent of the deaths happened in nursing homes, far less than percentages in other states.
But even though the official count stands at roughly 6,600 virus deaths in all New York State nursing homes, the Cuomo Administration has been criticized for the way it’s counted those deaths.
Many residents who got sick in nursing homes and then died at hospitals didn’t have their deaths counted as nursing home-related.
Many believe the real number of nursing home deaths could be much higher.
Cuomo continued his criticism of President Donald Trump’s response to COVID-19 Thursday, hours before the Commander-in-Chief was set to make his formal acceptance speech at the virtual Republican National Convention.
“I don’t believe this President has credibility,” Cuomo said. “He has denied COVID from day one. How do you further his agenda? Test less.”
Cuomo called the Trump Administration “incompetent” for missing the wave of coronavirus infections being transported to U.S. shores from Europe.
At one point, Cuomo Secretary Melissa DeRosa was called on to give her opinion of the Justice Department’s action.
“I felt the press release was so hyper-political,” DeRosa said. “They bent themselves into a pretzel explaining why they aren’t looking at Texas and Florida.”
Texas and Florida have tallied more than a half million COVID-19 infections in their respective states.
Cuomo noted there were 14 states that followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance relating to nursing home policy, but only four “blue” states received a letter from the Justice Department Wednesday.
And he talked again about the much-criticized policy that allowed recovering COVID-19 patients back into nursing homes.
“The policy they criticized….which we did four months ago….Florida just implemented the exact, same policy!”